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Michael Rakowitz, Sculptor of Lost Heritage, Wins $100,000 Nasher Prize

Installation view of Michael Rakowitz's 'The invisible enemy should not exist (Lamassu),' 2018, Trafalgar Square, London.

Installation view of Michael Rakowitz’s The invisible enemy should not exist (Lamassu), 2018, Trafalgar Square, London.

COURTESY THE ARTIST

The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas has named Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz as the recipient of the 2020 Nasher Prize, which recognizes excellence in the medium of sculpture and comes with a $100,000 purse. Rakowitz, who notably withdrew from the 2019 Whitney Biennial in protest of its erstwhile vice chair Warren Kanders, will be presented with the award in April.

Throughout his career, Rakowitz has mined cultural histories and events—including the 2003 US invasion of Iraq—in his multifarious practice, which spans sculpture, installation, and film. Many of the artist’s works have focused on refugees and immigrants, particularly those from the Middle East.

In Michael Rakowitz, the Nasher Prize jury has selected a laureate whose work wrestles in unique and revelatory ways with many of the complex questions of history, heritage, and identity that are so much at the forefront of contemporary culture and politics,” Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center, said in a statement. 

One of Rakowitz’s earliest works is his series of custom-built, inflatable shelters for homeless individuals. Over 90 paraSITE structures have been distributed in Boston, New York, Baltimore, Berlin, Chicago, and other international cities.

Through his ongoing project The invisible enemy should not exist, the artist strives to recreate the 7,000 artifacts looted or destroyed in the 2003 raiding of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, along with objects and cultural sites obliterated by ISIS in 2015. Pieces made in collaboration with local communities incorporate packaging from Middle Eastern food products or Arabic newspapers. The latest iteration of The invisible enemy should not exist, which features a lamassu figure forged from Iraqi date syrup cans, will remain on view in London’s Trafalgar Square until 2020.

Now in its fifth year, the Nasher Prize is among the largest art awards in the world. The 2020 jury that selected Rakowitz as the winner included Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, director of Castello di Rivoli in Italy; artist Phyllida Barlow; Pablo León de la Barra, curator at large of Latin American art at the Guggenheim Museum; Lynne Cooke, senior curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Briony Fer, professor of the history of art at University College London; Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo; Hou Hanru, artistic director at the MAXXI in Rome; and Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of the Arts Council England. Previous winners are Isa Genzken, Theaster Gates, Pierre Huyghe, and Doris Salcedo.

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